Top 10 Tips for Tummy Time

Tummy time is baby's first exercise---it helps baby build up the muscle strength to lift their head, push up, reach, sit up, and even crawl. Here are our top 10 tips for getting the most out of tummy time.

What is tummy time? It's when you place baby on their stomach during playtime.

Tummy time is essential to helping your baby develop key motor (movement) skills. By being placed on their tummy, they learn to lift their head by strengthening key neck and shoulder muscles. They eventually build up the muscle strength needed to push up with their arms, reach out, sit up, roll over, and crawl---and ultimately, to walk.

In addition to this, tummy time may help keep a flat spot (plagiocephaly) from forming on the back of baby's head.

Babies have all sorts of reactions to their first tummy times. Some wail because they don't like their face being on the floor, some enjoy the new view, and others are just happy no matter what position they're in.

Even if your baby doesn't like it when they're placed on their stomach at first, don't let that faze you. Tummy time will help your baby's development by motivating them to get their head off the ground---and more. Essentially, it's baby's first exercise time!

Learn essential tummy time moves for your baby in this video:

Here are 10 tips for parents to help baby with tummy time.

  1. You can start tummy time right away.

Yes, tummy time can begin as soon as you bring baby home from the hospital. As long as your baby is full-term and has no significant health issues, you're good to go. In fact, the AAP and NIH both recommend starting this early. Baby's first tummy times should be 3 to 5 minutes long, and they should have tummy time 2 to 3 times a day. (As they get older, tummy time should increase---more on that below.)

2. Remember: Back to sleep, tummy to play.

Tummy time is only meant for babies who are fully awake, and who are closely supervised. Tummy time is playtime. It is not safe for baby to sleep on their tummy.

Babies should always sleep on their backs. Unsafe sleeping on the stomach increases baby's risk for sudden infant death syndrome.

Back to sleep, tummy to play.

To keep baby safe during tummy time, watch them carefully and closely the whole time. If baby starts to fall asleep during tummy time, immediately flip them onto their back for safety. Make sure you're awake and alert during tummy time, too, so you can quickly flip baby over into their back if they start to doze off.

3.Time tummy time correctly.

After baby's nap, after their bath, and after you change their diaper, are three great times to do tummy time. Baby is usually awake and ready to play at these moments.

4. Make tummy time comfortable.

Baby should do tummy time on a soft, flat surface. It could be the floor, but you could also do tummy time outside for a stimulating change of scenery. Place baby on a blanket, a clean towel, or a special tummy time mat. A colorful blanket, towel or mat (such as a water mat or activity mat) might also keep baby stimulated.

5. Make tummy time fun with toys

Place baby's favorite toys nearby---after all, this is meant to be a fun playtime. Shaking a stuffed animal or rattle near baby's face can help keep them engaged in tummy time, long enough to lift their head or push up with their arms.

You could also hold a baby-safe mirror in front of their face, to encourage them to look up at their reflection. Place the mirror on different sides of your baby to encourage even more movement.

To further encourage muscle-building and development, try placing some toys just out of reach. That way, baby has to lift their head to spot the toys, then reach out to grab them.

The AAP recommends placing toys in a circle around baby, so baby will need to move around and reach out to different points. As the AAP explains, "this will allow [baby] to develop the appropriate muscles to roll over, scoot on [their] belly, and crawl."

As baby gets older, place toys even further away to help them work up to crawling. You could designate these toys just for tummy time, so they're even more engaging.

6. Interact with baby to make tummy time more enjoyable.

Get down on the floor and position your face at baby's eye level, to encourage eye contact. Even if baby doesn't lift their head for a toy, they'll probably be motivated to do so to interact with you! Here are some ways to interact with baby:

  • Talk to them
  • Sing to them
  • Make faces
  • Read to them with the book's pictures at eye level
  • Move their hands around
  • Offer them objects with different shapes and textures to feel

7. Try "tummy-to-tummy" time or "tummy-to-chest" time.

You don't always have to do tummy time on the floor. You can also lie down on your back and place baby on your stomach or chest, so the two of you are face-to-face. Baby will be motivated to look at you, and you'll both enjoy the closeness!

8. Know how to react if baby doesn't enjoy tummy time.

Baby might not enjoy tummy time at first. They might cry or scream after only one minute of tummy time, but don't worry. Getting them used to the tummy time position is key, because most babies start to enjoy tummy time once they've built up the strength to lift their head.

Try very short sessions of about a minute or two apiece, spaced out throughout the day. As your baby gets used to being on their stomach, increase the amount of time they spend on their tummy.

Changing the location or surroundings, massaging baby's feet, or inviting an energetic older sibling to join tummy time might also switch things up enough to engage baby in tummy time.

And if all else fails, give baby a break from tummy time, then try again after a few days.

9. Try some "side time" if baby really can't get used to tummy time.

If baby consistently cries after a short time on their tummy, you may want to try the alternative side-lying position.

  • Just like with tummy time, make sure baby is awake and alert.
  • Place baby on a blanket.
  • Lay them on their side.
  • Prop baby's back up with a rolled-up towel.
  • If needed, use a pillow or rolled-up hand towel to support their head.
  • Bring baby's arms in front of them.
  • Turn baby onto the other side after 10-15 minutes.
  • Try tummy time again after a few days, and see if baby takes to it more smoothly.

10. Tummy time should get longer as baby gets older.

As baby gets older and starts to enjoy tummy time more, they'll need more and more time on their tummy to keep building up key muscle strength. So, you'll need to gradually increase the number and length of daily tummy time sessions. There's no exact rule for this, because every baby is different. Just watch how long baby tolerates tummy time, and try to add more time in small increments.

By 3 or 4 months of age, baby should spend half an hour to an hour per day on their tummy, divided into various tummy times throughout the day. When baby gets closer to crawling, they might even enjoy single tummy time sessions that last for a half-hour to an hour!

Once baby is crawling consistently (at approximately 8-9 months of age), they won't need tummy time, because the movements of crawling build muscles in the same way that tummy time did.

Key Takeaways

  • Tummy time helps baby build up key muscles that help them lift their head, reach out, sit up, and crawl.
  • Tummy time is for playtime, and for when baby is awake.
  • Never let baby sleep on their tummy.
  • Engage baby with toys, or by directly interacting with them.
  • If baby doesn't like tummy time, try very short intervals (1-2 minutes).
  • Tummy times should get longer as baby gets older.
  • Don't give up---the more time baby spends on their tummy, the happier they'll be with tummy time.

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